Honda E at red Dot award

Honda enters the EV market in style

Honda has created a real buzz with its first battery electric vehicle and it’s a stylish mix of retro and futuristic. Craig Thomas reports

Despite so much uncertainty right now the car industry is plugging away at its mission to electrify transport; a mission that needs to complete in just a couple of decades. As a result, electrified cars are launching with increasing frequency as carmakers scramble to reduce their emissions and attract consumers to a new, expensive and unfamiliar technology.

The latest is Honda, a company that has been, well, a little conservative in recent years in terms of its car design.

But if the e, Honda’s first fully electric vehicle is anything to go by, Honda cars are going to be a lot more exciting in the future.

The Honda e will undoubtedly turn heads around town. Its simple, unfussy lines and smooth surfaces give the the car an air of minimalist functionality

The Honda e has appeal in spades, something it has retained from the Urban EV concept car seen in 2017. Honda has managed to turn the concept into an actual car in less than three years, which is impressive enough, but the fact that it has done so and remained so true to the concept is a revelation.

What made the Urban EV concept stand out when it made its public debut at 2017’s Frankfurt Motor Show was the design. Seriously fresh-looking and retro-futuristic, the design has survived almost entirely intact, save for some softer edges.

The Honda e will undoubtedly turn heads around town. Its simple, unfussy lines and smooth surfaces give the the car an air of minimalist functionality; something that could feel bang on-trend as the world’s shaken societies get on with the business of rebuilding, post-Covid, with a keener, cleaner and more responsible focus on the future.

Perhaps the most notable feature about the e’s exterior is the fact that there are no wing mirrors. The car has cameras instead which transmit pictures of what’s behind the car to screens on the dashboard.

Which brings us neatly to the dashboard, home to more screens than a spaceship, or so it seems.

In the corners, next to the doors are the screens showing you the ‘live feed’ from the side rear-view cameras. Their positioning is logical and you get used to looking at them quickly

In front of the driver, in the traditional position, is the instrument panel, displaying all the usual driving information – such as speed, trip meter, battery charge status – in an easy-to-read 8.8-inch TFT display.

But the really revolutionary feature is the e’s twin 12.3-inch LCD touchscreens, which sit in the middle of the dashboard. These are the infotainment displays. You can select what you want to see displayed from a range of options, including an Apple CarPlay or Android Auto interface, or even a digital aquarium app that shows fish swimming around, yes really.

The screens are huge and highly usable, for both driver and passenger, but there’s one more twist: you can swap the displays around, avoiding having to reach across to the farther screen to change the radio station or programme the navigation, bringing the display to the nearer screen, with whatever was on the nearer screen now in front of the passenger. It’s not only a very nifty system, it also makes using the infotainment system safer to use.

The cabin that houses all this technology is just as well thought-out, although the vibe is more living room than spaceship control room. It’s upholstered in woven fabrics with a contemporary feel, so it will be very familiar to owners with an eye for interior design. There is some ‘wood’ trim in the front, which is actually a plastic veneer, but it doesn’t jar with the rest of the surfaces and still looks good.

Start up the e and much of it feels familiar, if you’ve driven an EV before. It is, of course, whisper quiet on urban roads and even at motorway cruising there isn’t too much road or wind noise (the lack of mirrors help with the latter). Power delivery is instant and while it’s not the fastest EV you can drive, 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds should be nippy enough for most drivers, especially around town.

It also feels nicely balanced, thanks to well-judged weight distribution. The battery pack is positioned under the floor, between the two sets of wheels, while the motor is positioned at the back of the car. The rear-wheel drive gives the feel of driving a fun and nippy little car, helped by a small turning circle. At 8.6 metres it is only marginally larger than that of a famed London Black Cab, and gives you some idea of just how manoeuvrable the e is in town.

Honda has also included single-pedal control, which can be turned on and off. This enables the driver to pretty much apply acceleration and braking just using the accelerator pedal. It takes a little getting used to – especially at low speeds, where it can be a bit sudden and jerky – but you quickly learn to ‘feather’ the pedal in order to achieve the required level of smoothness.

At £26,660 with the government’s £3k OLEV grant, the Honda e isn’t cheap. But for such a stylish, appealing and desirable electric car, it will be a compelling purchase for many people.

It excels in almost every respect bar one…the range.

It’s true that we’re all going to have to think differently about how we use cars in our electric future. Even with advances in battery technology, it’s hard to foresee an EV ever managing to cover the kinds of distances that a diesel car with a large fuel tank can currently handle. And if we all come to understand that, actually, very few of us ever cover long distances on a regular basis, then the range anxiety currently holding back many buyers from taking the electric plunge will fizzle away.

However, the 35.5kWh battery in the e only offers an official maximum range of 137 miles, so in the depths of winter you might find yourself struggling to squeeze 80 or 90 miles out of it. If you’re exclusively an urban driver, or the e is a second car, even this range should be fine for most journeys. But if you’re thinking of undertaking a long motorway journey, be prepared to stop to charge often.

That said, this is an urban car, so it’s fundamentally not designed for long journeys: if you need it for this, you’re buying the wrong car. As an urban car, though, the Honda e will be everything that trendy fashionistas could want on a day-to-day basis: cheap to run, with no tailpipe emissions, always connected and easy to drive.

In short, it’s mission accomplished for the first stage of Honda’s electrification journey.

What we like…

+ Very cool interior

+ Dashboard-width screens

+ City-friendly turning circle

…but can we live with?…

Limited 137-mile range

– Expensive

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